Pentatonic Raagams 1 - Mohanam

This time and in the upcoming issues, we are going to take a look at the popular pentatonic raagams that have been handled in Carnatic music and inspired several movie song sequences over the years. As the name indicates, pentatonic ragams have a scale consisting of 5 notes in the ascent ( aarohanam ) and 5 notes in the descent ( avarohanam ) of the scale. These are also called AuDava – AuDava raagams, meaning 5 note – 5 note raagams. In other words, out of the usual seven possible notes, S, R, G, M, P, D and N, two notes are left out to form the scale of the raagam. Mohanam, Madhyamavati, Hindolam, Shuddha Saveri and Shuddha Dhanyasi form a family of pentatonic ragams. They are part of one pentatonic family because, each of these raagams are similar in their structure and can be derived from the other by shifting the reference of the sa note. This kind of tonic shift is called Shruti ( Pitch ) Bedam or Graha( Location ) Bedam.

The inter-relationship between these ragams can best be summarized by the following table:

Raagam Scales ( Aarohanam or Ascent )
R1 G2 M1M2 D1 N2 N3 - - Notes in Mohanam that are left out

Mohanam S R2 G3 P D2 S+ R2+ G3+ P+ D2+
Madhyamavati S R2 M1 P N2 S+ R2+ M1+ P+
Hindholam S G2 M1 D1 N2 S+ G2+ M1+
Shuddha Saveri S R2 M1 P D2 S+ R2+
Shuddha Dhanyasi S G2 M1 P N2 S+

Note that S, R, G, M, P, D, N, denotes the commonly known Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni and the number suffix is the type of that particular note. The suffix "+" represents the note in the next octave. The blank cell in the table after the S in each row represents the note in that position is not being used for that particular raagam.

For example, the scale ( Aarohanam ) for Madhyamavati is attained by shifting the Sa of Mohanam to its R2 position and playing the other notes in the scale successively. Similarly, when you shift the reference Sa along G3, P, D2 of Mohanam, you get the other raagams in the family, namely Hindholam, Shuddha Saveri and Shuddha Dhanyasi respectively. There are also many other raagams based on the pentatonic scale other than the ones mentioned above.

The first pentatonic raagam, Mohanam which is the topic of this issue, is derived from the parent melakartha raagam called Harikaambhoji. Mohanam uses five out of the seven notes of the parent raagam, namely Sa, R2, G3, P and D2. In western notation, the scale is C, D, E, G, A which makes it a C Major Pentatonic scale since the individual notes in the C Major chord are embedded in the Mohanam scale. The scale of Mohanam is found in the music of various countries such as Japan, China, Sweden and Hungary. Bhoop or Bhoopali in the Hindusthani style of music is the raag that resembles Mohanam. The raagam Mohanam is said to be suitable to be performed at night. It is meant to elicit the emotions of valor, anger and challenge although the subliminal grandeur of the raagam has been seen to have catered to other feelings as well.

Mohanam has been used in the ancient tamil works called paNN. It has been extensively handled by great composers of Carnatic music with great élan. Carnatic compositions in this raagam by great stalwarts in the yester-years include Vara VeeNa ( Geetam ), Ninnu kori varNam ( RamnaD Shrinivas Iyengar ), En PaLLi Kondeeraiya ( AruNachala Kavi ), Nanu Paalimpa, Mohana Raama ( Thyagaraja ), Swagatam Krishna ( OotthukaDu VenkaTa Subbiyer ), Kapaali, Mayil Vaahana ( Paapanasam Sivan ), Raa Raa Raajeeva Lochana ( Mysore Vasudevachar ) , Sadaa Paalaya ( GNB ), Cheri Yeshodaku ( Annamaacharya ), Mella Mellane Bandene ( Purandaradasa ) and many many more.

In tamizh movies, the music directors were both adept at producing main-stream classical sounding numbers as well as being creative enough to transcend the boundaries of classical music into what is more popular among the masses. Mohanam was one of those raagams that stayed afloat unswervingly among music of different origins. Tamil film music has seen the lilting brilliance of Mohanam since the 1940s to the present day compositions in numbers such as Ramanai KaNNaara KaNDene, Amudhum Thenum edharkku, KaaTru VeLiyiDai KaNNamma ( KappaloTTiya Thamizhan ), Oru Thanga radhatthil ( Dharma yuddham ), Geetam sangeedham ( Kokkarako ), Naan undan thaayaaga venDum ( Ullaasa ParavaigaL ), Pazhaga theriya venDum ( Missiamma ), poovil vanDu koodum ( Kaadal Oviyam ), Vetri ETTu dhikkum ETTa ( Naam Iruvar ), Ninnu kori varnam ( Agni Nakshatthiram ), Naan Oru Ponnoviam KanDen ( Kannil Theriyum Kadaigal ). The innovative composition Bansaayee.. based on Mohanam by M.S Vishwanathan in the movie Ulagam SuTTrum Vaaliban, picturized in Japan blends in very well with the ambience there. Similarly, the song Sayonaara Sayonaara form the hindi movie Love in Tokyo is set in the Mohanam scale.

Mohanam’s other counterparts in its pentatonic family have also left massive foot-prints in the world of both Carnatic music and film music. We will take a panoramic look at each one of them in turn in future issues. Until then, spend some time listening to the plethora of compositions in Mohanam and you will for sure concur with my views.

-Gopal Venkatraman, Troy, MI